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SALT LAKE CITY — Thanksgiving is known as a day for delicious food, traditions and loved ones. But from getting the food cooked and on the table, to being surrounded by people we may have complicated relationships with, to the food we may also have a complicated relationship with, the holiday also comes with added stress.
Here are 10 expert tips to reduce stress around preparing dinner and eating during this holiday:
1. Be compassionate with yourself
One way to stress less during the holidays, especially on Thanksgiving, is to take care of your self like you would any other day. Make sure you nourish your body adequately before the big feast so you're able to mindfully enjoy all of your favorite foods. Under-nourishing your body or skipping out on meals leading up to Thanksgiving can increase your chances of binge episodes or eating until you feel ill. No matter how much you eat during all the festivities, you still deserve to nourish your body the following days and weeks to come, said Samina Qureshi, registered dietitian nutritionist of Wholesome Start.
2. Don't put so much pressure on yourself to have the perfect meal
Try to remember what Thanksgiving is really about. As much time as we spend planning, preparing and cooking dinner, the holiday is about giving thanks and enjoying time with family and friends. If you focus on the significance of the day rather than the food that needs to be cooked, you may find it a lot easier to have a healthy and happy Thanksgiving, said Jessica Ivey, a registered dietitian nutritionist.
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare
If you're hosting, prepare as much as you can before the event. Think of every last thing you will need for the meal, and shop for it about a week in advance. Do something, no matter how small, to prepare every day — like making side dishes in advance and freezing them. That way, you can enjoy the day even more without being totally exhausted, said Elizabeth Ward, the registered dietitian of Better is the New Perfect. If you're looking for easy side dish recipes, click here for a list of simple, yet delicious dishes.
4. Eat a good breakfast the morning of
Make sure to have a protein-packed breakfast to keep you satisfied and maintain your energy levels throughout the busy morning preparations, advised Lauren Harris-Pincus, a registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition Starring You and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
5. Don't focus on 'diet culture' messages
Remember, you don’t need to earn your food — not on Thanksgiving, or ever. This notion will likely only distract you from what this holiday is really about — togetherness, gratitude and yummy food. To avoid feeling stressed when you see messages from different diet cultures, remember why these messages about eating less won't serve you well. Know that your body requires fuel all day, every day. Going without food or eating unsatisfying amounts leading up to a special meal is likely to mean that a person will feel out of control or disconnected when they finally allow themselves to eat, said registered dietitian Kathleen Meehan.
6. Share the holiday responsibilities with family or friends
Allow others to prepare and bring their favorite holiday dishes to share at dinner. Thanksgiving shouldn't be about whether you have enough turkey, too much stuffing, too little stuffing or leftover potatoes. Enjoy your holidays for the memories you are making and stop trying to create the perfect Thanksgiving, advised Zach Cordell, regisitered dietitian nutritionist of The Latter-day Saint Nutritionist podcast.
7. Focus on the foods you love and enjoy
Thanksgiving is a great time to enjoy foods that have positive memories associated with them. Enjoy your grandmother's stuffing recipe or your mom’s homemade cranberry sauce. What foods have positive memories associated with them? What foods are you looking forward to eating? Focus on the positives rather than what might be provoking stress, said registered dietitian nutritionist Sarah Schlichter, of Bucket List Tummy.
8. Don't restrict yourself before the big meal
Don’t skip breakfast or lunch in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, eat a balanced breakfast and lunch (depending on the time of your Thanksgiving Day meal) and enjoy your holiday meal. Enjoy the foods you choose to eat, enjoy the time with family and friends and know that you can always stop eating when you’re full and enjoy the leftovers another day, said registered dietitian Alyssa Lavy.
9. Plan for satisfaction
Instead of thinking about how you can avoid eating "too much," focus on reaching satisfaction with your meal. Allow yourself to be nourished all day long so that the main meal is enjoyable but not elevated as a meal to end all meals, said registered nutritionist Tracy Brown.
10. Communicate and consider dietary restrictions
Be sure to communicate with the host ahead of time to know what is going to be on the menu. If there aren't plentiful options for you to feel satisfied, then consider offering to bring a dish or two to share. You can also make your own meal ahead of time, pack it up and take it to the gathering to reheat it and enjoy with everyone else. The same goes if you're hosting, be sure to ask your guests in advance of any dietary restrictions. The holidays are about fun with your family and friends and food shouldn’t be a stress factor, said registered dietitian nutritionist Taylor Wolfram.
Bonus: For those who have people close to them who show their love by making and sharing food, Nina Mills, an accredited dietitian from Australia, shares how to address those times when we don't want to eat that food.
I hope that you can take a minute this week to think about one thing that you want to do to reduce your stress on Thanksgiving and plan out how you can achieve that. Then, reflect back on how things went without judgment and use what you learned through the rest of this holiday season.